Monthly Archives: June 2015

Don’t blame clients for the death of good advertising

I read this post on Medium last night, by a guy called Scott Morrison.  It’s a chapter excerpt from a book called Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief: Advertising’s Next Generation.

I haven’t read the book.  It sounds pretty interesting.  I’ve got a pile of partly-read industry books gathering dust on my bedside table.  I prefer to read chapter excerpts and articles.  Most business books seem to me to be extended articles that should have stayed being articles.  But there’s not much money to be made from that, is there?  I’m not really all that cynical, because if someone asked me to write a chapter in a business book I’d be stoked.

Anyway, back to the point of this post.

This article, in short, bemoans the death of advertising that people want to talk about.

The kind of advertising people used to say they liked better than the TV shows.  Watercooler conversation stuff.

The kind of advertising that had a great big idea behind it.

And the article argues that clients (and agencies) are to blame for the end of the great advert.

You know, Smash, Hamlet (still makes me laugh), McCains (the song’s bloody well got stuck in my head now), FCUK, KitKat (perhaps my absolute favourite advert of ALL TIME), all those great campaigns that crop up in the ‘100 best’ compilation shows.

I think I’d like to counter this article in the following few ways:

  1. Is the big idea really gone?  I can think of some really fun, effective advertising campaigns from the last few years which have powerful ideas behind them, well planned and rooted in insight.  The brands that spring to mind are Lidl, Aldi, John Lewis, Volvo (watch this one if you watch any of them – amazing!)  People aren’t talking about this round the watercooler but they are sharing it in social media – sometimes in their tens of millions.
  2. The weird thing about this article is that it doesn’t mention how consumers have changed over the last 20 years.  They’re more sophisticated, they second screen, TV shows are much more interesting than the adverts and during the adverts they’re tweeting about the programme or IMDB-ing the cast…  They’re not seeing the adverts in the same way as they did 20 years ago.
  3. Thirdly, the article doesn’t talk about the power of integration – it’s thinking about old-school advertising, not the full integrated campaign.  It’s in an integrated campaign that the power of the central idea really comes to life.  Nowadays you have to be useful as well as entertaining, and the benefit of your proposition has to come across in what you do, not just what you say.  So the brands that stand out now are the ones who aren’t run by unrealistic expectations of their expensive advertising agency, they’re the ones who get their agencies to work together to ensure that ideas work across all channels, and in the way they behave in real life and on the web.

You can’t expect a huge boost sales off the back of an advert any more. TV advertising has its place but it’ll never have the impact it had pre-broadband, pre-smartphone.

Life’s not that simple anymore.

The answer isn’t to look for a more creative boutique agency, it’s to look for the best integrated team.

The best work comes from a tight team – and by that I mean where all agencies (including digital and media) and the client have had an input into the big idea from the initial drawing board stages.  Where all the different understandings of the audience, their behaviour throughout the customer journey, their needs, wants, goals, beliefs, prejudices, cultural ties, etc etc all come together and the best insight can be revealed and crafted.

So yes, it is down to clients to jump in and encourage their agencies to work together, to stop seeing the ad agency as the lead creative agency, to understand that the big idea can come from anywhere, and to see the value in the lots of little ideas that make connections that build a big idea in the mind of the consumer.

Perhaps there is a divide between clients and agencies that understand the best way to do integrated, and the ones that don’t.  As agencies we should blame ourselves for not articulating this better and for not standing up for what we really believe will have the best outcome for our clients.

I know I’m being idealistic – unrealistic – but I hope one day I am proved wrong.

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